We have just experienced a traumatic incident here in New Zealand, and many of my students were in Christchurch on a school trip when the earthquake hit. As a teacher of senior English, a form teacher and the Special Needs teacher, I wondered what advice teachers could give me to help my students move forward positively from this experience.
I am sincerely grateful for all of your wise and thoughtful advice. Thank you all for your kind words and helpful steps for us.
First of all, I feel for your students. As an English teacher, you have an opportunity to help your students express their feelings and emotions in positive and helpful ways. For example, your students can write poetry of loss or sadness. They can also write letters of encouragement or condolence to people who have lost someone or something. These small actions will help them to move on.
While I agree with above posts about the importance of the student's feeling like they can talk about what has happened, I think many of them may actually be craving some semblance of normalcy. An event like this is scary, in part, because it was so unexpected. Students know what to expect in school, and I think that can be a good distraction, even if for only a little part of each day.
First, my thoughts and prayers are with all of you during this terrible time.
My suggestion comes from my own experience teaching in NY after 9-11. I have to agree with all the above posts that it is important to allow the students to express their feelings and ask questions. It is super important that you give them different opportunities to do. Have class discussions, but also give them journal or writing assignments or creative and drawing assignments. You want to make sure that every student has an outlet that they feel comfortable with.
In addition, incorporate lessons on natural disasters into your current and future lessons. I showed films that dealt with terrorism and conflict and did projects helping the students relate their experiences to the books and movies we used as well as articles and news stories about previous terrorist occurrences. This really helped the kids not only to express their feelings about what had happened, but also to not feel so alone in their experiences. They realized that others had gone through similar situations and come out alright, maybe even better. We also did a lot of service to others that year, in small and large projects. I found that the kids got a lot out of being able to give to someone else and it helped put all their loss in perspective.
Good Luck and God Bless!
Let me start by conveying my sympathy and thoughts and prayers for you at this time. Just to add to #4, you might benefit from trying to incorportate such opportunities to think through this issue into your teaching. Maybe you could set reflective journals based on their reactions to natural disasters, perhaps looking at literary examples to stimulate some responses? Might help...
The two previous posts are excellent, and the only thing I would add is that you need to just let them talk. Be available to listen to their fears and concerns, and encourage them to talk to one another. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you deal with this terrible tragedy.
Such a terrible tragedy! I am so sorry for your loss. Of course, students will need to be heard. That is the one thing I can say...make sure there are plenty of counselors, members of the clergy, other teachers there to hear what the kids have to say and allow them to express themselves. That is the first step in healing.
We are all, of course, keeping New Zealand in our thoughts and prayers and hoping that you can recover as soon as possible...
Although I was not in this town when it happened, I later taught students who were involved in a school shooting at a local middle school. (The shooting was back in the early '90s.) I think that episode was traumatic in some of the same ways an earthquake would be.
In the case of the shooting, the main way that students moved forward was by trying to understand the possible reasons for what happened to them. I suppose that this is not so relevant to a natural phenomenon, though.
Another thing that was more relevant was that the students learned the importance of pulling together and helping one another in times of trouble. Perhaps that could be a focus for you. You could look at ways to help those most affected by the quake and use that process to teach about how life goes on even after traumatic experiences and that one way to heal is to band together and help one another.
Again, best of luck to all of you in New Zealand.